On Easter Sunday morning I try to imagine myself as Mary Magdalene walking before sunrise on her way to the cemetery. It does not say, in the scripture, that she came to anoint the body of Jesus. It does not say why she came so early in the morning. I can imagine that she came to try to make “sense of it all—all that had happened.”
It had been a ‘whirlwind’ of a week!! On Sunday, just a week ago, there is Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The people had come to celebrate the prophet entering the Holy City. Those who had followed; those who had been healed and those who had heard the message lined the path of Jesus entering Jerusalem. I can imagine that Mary Magdalene would have been there. She would have witnessed the joys of all of the followers who had been touched by Jesus.
On Monday we have Jesus in the Temple. He’s there when he sees the Money Changers. Jesus does today what we would call ‘righteous anger.’ He throws the Money Changers out of the Temple.
On Tuesday we learn of the cursing of the fig tree and Jesus being challenged by the Sanhedrin. Then we have Jesus teaching of the parables: the parable of the two sons; the parable of the vineyard and the Marriage Feast.
Wednesday is known as “silent Wednesday.” We discover the Jews are plotting against Jesus. It was here we learn of Judas making a bargain with the priest to betray Jesus.
Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is my favorite during Holy Week. It’s the day when the Foot Washing Service occurs. We also have the first Lord’s Supper celebrated. We go from the rite or the ritual of the Lord’s Supper to that moment of betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Friday is the trial. We have the conviction of Jesus where the same crowds that cheered for him on Sunday turn against him. They shout, “Crucify! Crucify! During all of this Mary Magdalene would have been there.
I’m sure she watched as they had him carry the cross through the streets of the Holy City. She was there at the foot of the cross watching the brutal crucifixion. Three women were standing beneath the cross watching as Jesus died.
Mary watched as they took his body off the cross and placed him in an open
tomb in a garden close by the place of the crucifixion. She saw them place the stone to seal the tomb. The tomb is closed. She was there.
Why is it that life seems to come at us from all directions?! One minute we know joy! Then it seems the very next moment there is tragedy. We can hardly absorb all of it.
I would imagine if I were Mary I would be trying to gather my thoughts and make sense of it all!! I arrive before dawn, where there is total quiet, to try and rationalize what’s happening. What has happened within such a sort time span to the one who was my teacher and friend? Where does this lead? Where do I go from here? Where do the followers go?
As these thoughts are going through her mind and in her heart, she came that morning to the tomb. She finds the stone is rolled away. Frantic and in panic she runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple. She says, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb. They find the linens but no Jesus. Peter is confused and doesn’t know what to make of this. But the other disciple “saw and believed.” Both disciples return to their homes. Mary, however, stays in the garden weeping. She wonders ‘what else could they have done? After all that has happened this past week, what else could they do to the body of the one she loves? Looking into the tomb she sees two angels where the body had been. They say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Again, she says, “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She turns to find a person standing next her. This person says, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Confused and in grief, she assumes him to be the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
The Risen Christ CALLS HER BY NAME!
She hears the voice of one she thought she would never hear again!! Mary is the first to witness God’ s action in human history. God is breaking into history to change the course of events. Mary discovers what God can do!
Have you ever heard the voice of someone you love calling you? Maybe it’s someone in danger. It could be someone who is dying. It startles you! It shakes you to the very core of your being. It can even happen when you are asleep. You know, without a doubt this person that you love is reaching out to you. Because…you are called by name!!
Something like this happened in our family in 2004 as my father was dying. I received a call at 4:30 in the morning to come immediately to the Masonic Home on the other side of Shelbyville from where we live. I called my sister in New York to give her the news. When Eric and I arrived, my father was already dead. I called my sister again. She knew. She knew the exact time of his death. He had called out to her. He called her by name.
We don’t talk about those moments. They’re not rational or easily explained. I tell you. They happen! As it was specific with my sister and our father, so it was with Mary. The risen Christ is specific—Mary, I know you!! Mary is witness to what God can do!
What do we do with the resurrection? What do we make of it? I agree with Jim Baughman. Something significant happened that day. Something so amazing that it has changed the course of human history for over 2000 years! Did they believe Mary? Somebody did. Others did. Something new is born this day!! We may think of it as the ‘end’ of the story. It isn’t the end. It is the beginning!! It isn’t Advent or Christmas that signifies the beginning of the Christian story. It is the Resurrection!! It occurs when God reaches into human history to change the course of events.
In the Hebrew story in the Old Testament,, the actual beginning of the story is not the story of creation or Genesis. It is God’s intervention that came forth in the events of the Exodus! God broke into human history to free the people from bondage. God acted through Moses and Aaron! God acted through Mary of Nazareth to give birth to one who is both human and divine. God is acting through Mary Magdalene on this day; at this place so that she will believe.
The passage tells us repeatedly that Mary is weeping, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I believe this could have been, probably was one of the darkest times in Mary’s life. She was expecting even more. She expected even more of the ‘worst’ when she couldn’t find the body. What had they done? What more could they do? In what was the worst time of her life, she heard her name being called. In that darkest hour she found God reaching out to her. Maybe we’ve been there. Maybe we’ve been in that dark time, the worst place, in our lives. It’s then we’ve turned to discover that God is there with us. God is telling us something new is happening. We can’t see it or touch it. Not yet. We only know that God is breaking into that moment. God is reaching out to us. Calling us by name!
We live in a chaotic time in history. There is polarization everywhere we turn. There is disagreement in families and among friends. Sometimes the world seems to be churning upside down. A black clergy friend of mine was speaking to this time on earth. He said, “Sally, don’t you know this is when God does God’s best work!!” God works when it seems impossible! That’s when we are called to believe in the resurrection.
I’m curious. Do you ever wonder why our cross is empty? Look around this sanctuary. Look at the jewelry you might wear as a necklace. Is it empty? We do not have a crucifix where we see Jesus suffering on the cross. Look at the crosses in our sanctuary—not one has Jesus on the cross! It is because we are a people of the resurrection! The suffering is ended! New life is beginning!! It’s not just on Easter. It’s every Sunday! Every Sunday is a day to celebrate the resurrection! We are standing this day at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene. We are here, at Simpsonville Christian Church, to discover God’s action in history. We are here to hear and to see and to act. It is the mystery of the Almighty God working in and through us!!
I wondered where we stand, as I was present at the Board Meeting/Deacons/Elders meeting last week. Where do we stand as a congregation who had just lost a minister? I wondered where the church would be going from here. What I heard last Sunday was pretty amazing. It wasn’t one person saying, “I can do it all by myself.” It was a room full of people taking on the role of becoming disciples. I heard people talking about those same social justice issues: Outreach possibilities, opportunities to continue working with our young people, someone talking about sending supportive notes to our military, someone else talking about Mission Beyond Bars, working with families who are having conflict issues. Other issues I hope to hear discussed are working with the Heroin epidemic, HIV/AIDS, addictions, the GLBTQ community and other possibilities. There was excitement in that room! There was so much excitement that we had to be called back “to order.” I saw that as a good thing!
Yes. The world is an absolute mess. Our lives can be in the darkest hour when we wonder what ‘else can happen’. And it’s then, as Clay, my minister friend, would say is “when God does God’s best work”!!
Here we are…at this moment of the resurrection…when we are to hear God calling our name. Like Mary Magdalene hearing God calling her—calling her by name—so that she can discover what God can do. As it is for us, at Simpsonville, to hear God calling our names…telling each one of us…what we can do!! And it is then that the doors of this church can be thrown opened like the stone rolled away. It is then that we will know the power of the Almighty God!!!